Monday, June 25, 2012

Critique my query!

I'm participating in another one of Heather Webb's fabulous contests (more here), and this time it's all about crafting a great query letter! Whether you're participating in the contest or not, feel free to give it a read and let me know what you think...

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After 18-year-old Anne Marie is shipped off to Paris to live with her grandmother, she plans to uncover the secrets surrounding her mother’s death. In her pursuit of the truth, she stumbles across the diary of Charlotte Corday, a French aristocrat entrenched in the politics of the French Revolution and someone Anne's mother once considered a hero.

Strange things start happening with the diary, causing Anne to time travel and become Charlotte, a seemingly calm and unpretentious woman who is known in history for having murdered Jean-Paul Marat.

Her two realities become increasingly intertwined. As Anne, her new friend Pierre tries to bring her in touch with her mother's past, while dealing with his own troubles that revolve around the riots ravaging Paris in November 2005. As Charlotte, Anne struggles in deciding whether or not to follow through with what Charlotte considered her destiny--killing one man to save 100,000--or to follow her own path.

THROUGH CHARLOTTE'S EYES is a 78,000 word YA historical fiction novel. I wrote a version of this story for my Masters thesis at The University of Chicago, where I also received an Honorable Mention in the 2007 Emerging Writers Series for Fiction. It should appeal to fans of Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION and Laurie Halse Anderson's FEVER 1793.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Elizabeth SanFilippo

9 comments:

D. D. Falvo said...

This is a very well-written query! The only feedback I can offer is perhaps honing it to an active voice. :)

How did mom die? What is it that is so secretive?-- because specific words like murder, or mysterious illness imply foul play and that's interesting.

18-year-old Anne Marie refuses to believe her mother's death was an accident (or not. lol). After she is shipped off to her grandmother in Paris, she pursues the truth and stumbles across the diary of Charlotte Corday, a French aristocrat entrenched in the politics of the French Revolution that her mother greatly admired.

As Anne reads, she is transported back in time as Charlotte, a seemingly calm and unpretentious woman who is known in history for having murdered Jean-Paul Marat.

Her two realities become increasingly intertwined. (How, please?) As Anne, her new friend Pierre tries to bring her in touch with her mother's past, while dealing with his own troubles that revolve around the riots ravaging Paris in November 2005. (This line is more about Pierre, not Charlotte. Using "As Anne" may not be the best lead in, even though you want to mirror the following statement.) As Charlotte, Anne must decide whether or not to follow through with what Charlotte considered her destiny--killing one man to save 100,000--or to follow her own path. (LOVE this last line. It's great. But going back to the first sentence of this para., please give me something that demonstrates how these separate lives intertwine? I understand how they are different but not how they mesh.)

Your story is intriguing! Yay, you! For the "As Anne" sentence-- I really want to know why the diary transports her and what the connection is to her mom, I want to know more about the conflict in her present life.
I think the conflict for the past is awesome.

Glacier said...

Hmm, this one I could quite figure out what felt off, so I did a rewrite. I think your missing your stakes. I hope this helps.

Here is the rewrite with complete improvisation.

After her mother’s mysterious death, eighteen-year-old Anne Marie is shipped off to Paris to live with her grandmother. Paris might be some girl’s dream, but she’s not on vacation and vows she’ll discover what really happened to her mother. In her search, she stumbles across the diary of Charlotte Corday, a French aristocrat.

Through the diary, Anne time travels and becomes Charlotte, during the French Revolution. Charlotte is a calm and unpretentious woman who doesn’t seem like the murder. (How does she know if she is in Charlotte’s place?)

Her two realities increasingly intertwine. Her new friend Pierre helps her in her quest to learn who her mother really was. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Pierre is embroiled as one of the leaders of the Revolutionaries, rioting in Paris. As Charlotte, Anne must decide whether she’ll follow what Charlotte considered her destiny, killing Jean-Paul Marat to save 100,000 or choose her own path.

I don’t like the second date. I am not sure why. Can she control when she comes and goes? Is Anne part of the riots? It feels like she needs her own part in these riots. What are the stakes? I am not sure. What does she stand to lose as Anne? The man of her dreams Pierre? Can she become stuck as Charlotte? If she doesn’t follow through with Charlotte’s destiny, does she stay put and is forced to life with her choices.

This doesn’t have much voice, which is near impossible in a query. It reads pretty flat. I truly wonder how authors ever write their own query! We are so close to the story, it just seems hard to boil it down and make it interesting.

Amelia Loken said...

I like what you have already Liz, but I went online just to check a couple things. I wasn't sure if Charlotte Corday and Jean-Paul Marat were historical or fictitious characters, because...well, it's been a few years since I took a class in World History.

So...my first bit of advice is to make clear that this isn't just fictitious character in a historical setting. Perhaps as strange things start happening with the diary, "Anne finds herself plunged into the chaos of the French Revolution in the body of infamous Charlotte Corday. Funny, the face in the mirror doesn't look like a murderess."

My second bit of advice is to make Anne's voice come through. I've got the action and it sounds really intriguing. But make sure that we get a feel for who Anne is in these few paragraphs. [No thesis-speak allowed... ;) ] I like the previous suggestions in regards to Anne's feelings about her mother's death. You can keep it in third person and still have the personality shine through.
Is she the type to say, "Can you believe it? That stupid diary spit me out in front of Madame Guillotine with no way to get home!" Or "It made no sense. How could a 200 year old diary transport me back in time when there were no scientific gadgets that could beam a Guinea Pig from one side of MIT to the other?"

I love the concept and idea, though. Best of luck!

Cheers!

Heather Webb said...

Hey Liz!
Glad you're back for more. :) :)

I've done a bit of trimming & added a few suggestions. One thing I noticed, too, is that the emphasis is a bit off.

I get what the stakes are: Anne must choose whose destiny to fulfill but what happens on either side of that? What's the fallout? Certain death? How does her mother play into this? And what about the riots and Pierre? How essential is he to the plot? If he's big, I'd definitely give him more of a starring role in your query, say, mayb even begin the second
paragraph with him.

This is what I did to your query. Again, if Pierre is big, I'd rewrite the second para entirely.

Anne-Marie is shipped off to Paris to live with her grandmother (why? Because her mother died? If so, I’d start with—When Anne-Marie’s mother is killed,…” Otherwise, tell us why she moves.) she yearns to uncover the secrets surrounding her mother’s death. In Anne’s pursuit of truth, she unearths the diary of Charlotte Corday, an infamous French aristocrat entrenched in political scandal of the French Revolution.

As Anne becomes engrossed in the journal, strange things begin to happen—(include one or two things). But more disconcerting is her knack for time travel and her shift from her own mind to Charlotte’s, the woman of the diary.

As her two realities become intertwined, Anne must face a bloody riot that killed thousands and Charlotte’s destiny—murderess and heroine of the republic. Yet her mother’s secrets XXX and dictate Anne's path, whether she likes it or not.

THROUGH CHARLOTTE'S EYES is a 78,000 word YA historical novel (Be sure to delete “fiction”. The word novel means fiction in itself & it is redundant). The themes of X and X will appeal to fans of Jennifer Donnelly's REVOLUTION and Laurie Halse Anderson's FEVER 1793.

I am a member of (any writer’s groups or associations, even online ones.) I have a degree in (??? Only if it’s writing related), and I received an Honorable Mention in the Emerging Writers Series for Fiction at the University of Chicago in 2007.

Lisa Ard said...

Hi Elizabeth,
This sounds intriguing! I agree with some of the others comments - more of Anne Marie's feelings. More allusion to the French Revolution (that she's thrown into it) would really pump up the action and what's at stake.

I also think that it could be word trimmed a bit up front. Perhaps, "Eighteen year old Anne Marie arrives in Paris determined to uncover.... She stumbles across..."

I tripped up on the sentence "As Anne, her new friend Pierre tries to bring her in touch with her..." so suggest a rework of that.

Fever 1793 is a favorite of mine and I wish there were more good historical fiction books for this age group - Best wishes with yours.
Lisa Ard

Taurean Watkins said...

I love the title, I really do, but I sadly have little else to add.

I do know how it feels to struggle with making the most of feedback, though.

The comments before me further affirm why I don't write historical fiction, it's hard to balance historical facts, however relevant and vital, with what's good for the fiction.

I enjoy reading it, and I do think you have a good story based on what you have now, but I agree with the comments above, and it's the struggle of balancing points above that I don't write it myself.

I salute you for taking on the challenge. Take care.

Taurean

E. B. Pike said...

Hey Elizabeth,

Your query's pretty smokin' already, so I don't have much to say. The only thing I would recommend is editing the paragraph about her two intertwining realities. It could be condensed and made clearer. From reading it, I'm not really sure how often she is in each reality, what's up with Pierre and her mother's past, or what the character Anne's motivation and character arc are (Charlotte's are pretty clear).

That's all. Congrats on an awesome query!

Lara Schiffbauer said...

Hi! Sorry I'm late to the hop - I had a three hour power outage last night!

I feel (as most of the others) that you have a great query. I do think that making it a little more active would help grab an agent/editors attention more. The way Denise rearranged the first paragraph had a bit more punch to it. I understood that Charlotte was an historical figure, but the stakes were a little lost by the end of the query. I understand she doesn't want to kill anyone - whether it's as Charlotte or not, but is there some overarching conflict - like if something happens in one world, it affects the other? Some major issue that connects her two worlds?

You have a great bio section! :)

Donna said...

Sorry I'm late in commenting. You have great feedback already and I don't feel qualified to add anything new.

The one thing I wonder, since I don't know what defines a YA story from other fiction is why this is YA? It looks like a story I'd be 100% interested in reading (I'm 46!), but would probably never find if categorized as YA. Not to suggest there's anything for you to change in your query to answer my question. Just wondering why this isn't more general fiction?